I want to start today by picking up where I left off in my speech after my election in January – by thanking my wife Annie. Today is a special day for us both and it’s made even more special by the fact that we get to share it with our families. Between us we have four sisters, three brothers, seven nephews, three nieces, and six men and women who decided to marry into it all. And you know what? They’re nearly all here today.
In that vein, it’s important to me to point out the first time I ever witnessed a swearing-in of a Speaker. It was just over six years ago when my good friend—and the man who would later perform our wedding ceremony—John A. Pérez—was sworn-in on March 1st, 2010. He stood here. I sat there. Way up there.
One of the first things John did on that day was to acknowledge a slight sense of emptiness, and to comment on the bittersweet fact that his parents were no longer alive to share the moment with him. Neither Annie nor I take for granted how lucky we are that our parents are not only living, but that they are also here in the chamber with us today. To be able to share today with both of our moms and both of our dads means the world to us, and we thank them for all that they’ve done for us and our families.
I also want to thank the Governor and constitutional officers, the Senate pro-Tem and all the other dignitaries and elected officials for being here today. To my family and friends, you honor me not only by your presence here today, but also because of what you mean in my life. Thank you.
To the former Speakers who are here, thank you for all the goodwill and guidance you have provided.
Speaker Atkins, thank you for the honor of swearing me in—that is only the latest gracious act you have performed during this transition. Thank you, too, for your commitment to progressive values and for the empowering way you have led this house.
Republican Leader Chad Mayes, thank you again for your devotion to our state, thank you for your friendship, and thank you for the candid and constructive discussions we’ve had. I know those will continue….at least up until the next legislative softball game.
I especially want to thank my staff – both past and present, old and new – for all that they have done. Neither my staff, nor Assembly staff in general, can really be thanked enough for their efforts in making this house run and in ensuring that we all look good and smart.
Capitol staffers will always have an ally in me and an advocate in Annie—who herself was a staffer in this building for five years. We know how this place works and that it can’t work without you. Thank you.
This is one of those days, after which Annie and I will sit back and ask ourselves, “how the hell did that happen?” It seems like Annie and I are constantly pinching ourselves and wondering how we ended up in all the places that we’ve ended up lately.
It doesn’t quite make sense that either of us should be here. And, quite honestly, neither of us was really supposed to be here.
By now most of you know my story. I was a terrible student, and were it not for California’s high quality, low-cost university system, I would not be here today. In those rare instances when I was able to land a job I worked the graveyard shift in a series of factories and warehouses, always trying to find a way to save enough money to put myself through school, always watching other people get off the bus, excited about their day at college.
That’s my story and I’ve really grown tired of telling it. But I don’t believe that any of you know Annie’s story.
Annie is the daughter of hardworking immigrants who fled one country because of war and another because they were not wanted there. While most kids her age were playing, Annie was working in the fields not far from here, picking fruit. Her work in the fields continued straight through high school. Her parents always worked hard at multiple jobs, and while they did, she cooked and cleaned and took care of house chores.
Neither Annie nor I was born with much, but we worked hard, and somehow we ended up here. But we also had a lot of help. Help not just from family and neighbors, but help from California—a state that invested not only in us, but also in millions more just like us.
It was California that helped us get here, and it is to this state that we are indebted.
Annie and I benefitted from California. We benefited from its public housing projects and low-income home loan programs. We benefitted from its food stamps and free meal programs. We benefitted from this state’s English-as-a-second-language and diversity programs.
We benefitted from its unemployment assistance programs and, yes, we benefitted from this state’s commitment to affirmative action. We also benefitted from California’s great public schools and universities—and their financial aid. And we benefitted from access to its public parks, its beaches, its mountains, its forests, and its coast.
We benefitted from the generosity of a state that promised to never turn its back on us—and it never did.
That’s how we made it here, that’s our story. We made it because California enabled us to get here and because California wanted us to get here.
I know many of you have similar stories. And when we all reflect on “how did we get here?” we also need to be thoughtful about what we’re doing to enable others to get here as well. Colleagues, in the years that we have left in this chamber, we will each have the opportunity to pay California back for all that it has provided.
When I spoke in January, I said that the voters extending term limits has great potential to change how we do business. Voters put their faith in us to do more and to do better.
Here’s how I see my part in our effort. First, as you’ve seen, I’m not carrying any bills this year. Instead, much of my energy will be spent helping the Assembly operate with as much efficiency and collegiality as possible. And I want to help each of you achieve the best and the most for the people you represent.
We won’t always agree on issues or approaches. But I believe everyone here deserves an environment where they can advocate forcefully for their ideas and their constituents.
Despite not authoring legislation myself, I will continue fighting for the needs of my district and for what I believe in. My primary task will be one of focusing and framing.
In the effort ahead, there are three areas in particular we should focus on: Poverty, Oversight, and Participation.
Poverty. The single biggest shadow on the Golden State is the number of children we have living in poverty. Almost two and a half million kids in the greatest state in the most powerful nation on this planet are living in poverty right now. That’s unacceptable. We need to make investments and provide opportunities that lift California families out of poverty— and give all our children a better chance.
Oversight. In my first year in this house, I demanded that the state parks department be held accountable to California’s taxpayers. Last year in oversight hearing after oversight hearing, and press release after press release, I demanded that the PUC be held accountable to ratepayers. So my own experiences have shown me that we must continue to demand that this state’s departments and units be held accountable – and it’s our duty to ensure they are.
We must also remember that the need for oversight doesn’t just apply to laws and other institutions, but to this Legislature itself. And we must always be accountable to the taxpayers, the voters, each other, and ourselves.
Participation. I believe that this state and this body must focus on participation, and on ensuring that Californians are engaged in their democracy.
In my first effort at elected office, I received 8,700 votes in a district that has almost 500,000 people. It was hard for me to really consider that a win in 2012. And I think we need to explore how we can get more Californians involved. Especially in communities where the needs are great, but the engagement hasn’t been.
One way of course is to get barriers out of voters’ way. We’re making progress, and last year’s automatic registration bill will help. And, when there is an ongoing campaign across this country to keep people from voting, we must continue fighting to protect the voting rights of every Californian.
We also have to step up and give people something to vote for—real actions that make real differences in real lives. Because of the size of our state, and the scope of our challenges, there can be a tendency in the Capitol for us to think in the abstract. We have to remember that what we do here isn’t just about “policies” or “programs”—it’s about people—and the struggles they face every day.
Like some of my constituents who have water they can’t drink and yards their kids can’t play in. And constituents in your districts who haven’t felt the economic recovery the way others have. Or who are fighting the ravages caused by years of drought. Or who are living day to day with no roof over their heads.
Different struggles. One state.
Colleagues, this year marks the 50th anniversary of California voters putting the state in the hands of a full time Legislature. And looking around this chamber, I can say that it is in good hands. Teachers’ hands. Farmers’ hands. Scientists’ hands. Hands that invented. Hands that nurtured. Hands that put on the uniforms of our nation’s military.
Today I raised my hand to take the oath to serve as your Speaker. One day, that oath may be taken by one of you sitting “way up there.” Or maybe even by some other Californian, who, right now, is riding home on a bus or picking fruit in a field. Someone who will benefit from the work we do to enable them, believe in them, and invest in them.